Not-So-Quick Review: Frozen II


I have the reputation of being a grump who hates everything. I deserve this reputation, as I have done everything possible to earn it. I am the sort of person who tries to understand what people see in football halftime shows that is remotely entertaining, and cannot do it. I don’t tend to like things unless they stand out from the herd. Call that elitism, call it snobbery; I don’t care. I can’t pretend to like things I don’t like.

That being said, I did not hate Frozen II.

I also didn’t love it. It gets a C.

Sequels are hard to do. Unless your characters are so charming and entertaining that you’ll watch them do anything (Toy Story), you’re going to find yourself either repeating character motivations or undermining them with some form of retconning (e.g. Marty McFly’s sudden homicidal rage at being called chicken).

And of course, you need a story that isn’t just a retread of the first movie.

Frozen II has that. The story is an expansion on the world we know, and has a mystery at its heart. That is welcome. And at least half of the characters undergo actual growth. And considering they’re the most important character and the fan favorite, this constitutes success.

Not only that, but there are some funny moments scattered throughout, and a couple of action set pieces that worked very well. So if you sat behind me in the theater when I saw it with my family, you’d have heard me laugh and say, “that was cool” a couple of times. And really, what more do I have any right to expect from an animated kids movie?

So that’s the good. It made me laugh, it had a different story, it wasn’t completely tedious.

The bad is… well. Let’s talk about characters first. Frozen introduced us to an ensemble that became our core character group. They are:

  1. Elsa, Queen of Aerendale (Arendelle? Arundell? Airdale?) who possesses ice-magic powers but doesn’t know how to control them, and spends most of the movie terrified of herself.
  2. Anna, her emotionally starved sister.
  3. Olaf, a magical snowman who is equal parts six-year-old child and Mystic Sage.
  4. Kristof, a grumpy ice merchant who forms pair-bonds with reindeer and trolls.

Over the course of the first movie, the following happens:

  1. Elsa figures out how to temper her magical powers with Love.
  2. Anna reforges her relationship with her sister by gallantly sacrificing herself for Elsa (and being revived thereby, because this is a kids movie).
  3. Olaf gets to experience warm weather without melting.
  4. Kristof gets a new sled, and becomes Anna’s tacit boyfriend.

So what does Frozen II do with them?


Elsa, having figured out how to control her magic, now seeks to undo a great wrong on Arendiale’s frontier, and in the process, discovers who her mother was, who she actually is, and why she is a being of greater importance than a mere monarch. Basically, she becomes the Messianic figure her powers always pointed towards.

Olaf, having achieved a stable existence, starts to suffer an existential crisis in which he realizes that all things end and he doesn’t understand why. Naturally, there’s only one way to handle such an exercise, and that’s death, and only one way to solve it: Elsa-ex-Machina (Elsa is to Messiah as Olaf is to Suffering Servant). After his reincarnation, Olaf is at peace with existence.

These are the characters mentioned above, who had actual character growth. As for the others:

Anna strikes exactly the same notes as the first movie. Did you know she loves her sister? Did you know her relationship with her Sister is THE MOST IMPORTANT THING IN HER LIFE? Does it seem completely normal to you the way an ostensible adult behaves like a toddler when separated from her co-dependent mommy-substitute? I hope the answer to all these is Yes, because that’s all Anna has to give you.

I suppose it can be construed that her taking action in the third Act to Undo the Great Wrong, for which she is rewarded by becoming Aerundaillie’s new Queen, can be considered a small piece of character growth, but honestly, she only did that because Elsa told her to via IceMail. This is just Anna saving Elsa’s bacon again. Been there, done that.

Kristof gets trapped in a sit-com plot where he’s trying to propose to Anna, but circumstances and his lack of fluency in Womanspeak keeps preventing him. I’m not gonna say it’s not funny, but it gets old well before it gets resolved. Frankly, the fact that they can’t think of anything better for him underlines his secondary status. Kristof has no connection to the story other than through Anna. This was fine in the first movie, when he provided a kind of grounding foil to Anna,  but here he’s just a lovesick puppy. His entire character could have been removed from the movie, and nothing else would have been affected. And given that he’s gone for most of the second act, that’s probably what should have happened.

Thus for the characters. We now move on to the plot, which as I said, was different, in the sense that it was not a retread of the plot of the first movie. But that doesn’t mean it’s not entirely predictable. I knew what the Surprise Reveal – Elsa and Anna’s grandfather was a villain who wanted to enslave the natives of the magic land – was going to be as soon as the question was posed. You’ve got some Sami/Natives, who are “in harmony with nature”, and then you’ve got, well, white people. We know who the bad guys are going to be. King Runeard is all jaw and beady eyes. Your cerebellum knew what was going on before anyone met an Northuldrian.

So I’m not at all surprised to discover that Runeard is a man who acts out of the fear of magic. Nor was I surprised to see Elsa rebuke his ice-ghost for it. Sure, it’s laughable for the woman who spent the last movie in a catatonic torpor to be lecturing her dead grandfather about Fear, and sure, given the events of the first movie, it’s hard not to think the old man had a point. But that’s exactly the sort of message that has to be conveyed by a major studio film in 2019. No other message is possible, no matter how much we have to force the narrative to convey it.

{And while we’re on that, if Runeard built the dam to trick the Northuldrians into becoming economically dependent on him, and to destroy their magic, why does he kill the Northuldrian chieftain? Wouldn’t that achieve, you know, the opposite of his stated purpose? I’m not saying he might not have done that rashly, if he felt threatened, but we don’t see anything leading up to that. It’s just Make the Bad Guy Bad, which I suppose is a tradition in Disney films, but usually there’s a thing to be avenged or a loss of status or something. This is just cartoonish, pun intended.}

There’s more I could nitpick in there, but the only other point I want to make is that the songs just weren’t there. I’m not alone in thinking so, but ultimately all I need to argue this is that I can’t remember any of them. I remember thinking the Olaf song was funny, but it was no “In Summer,” which I could probably sing from memory.  The rest seemed like it was trying to be EPIC and HUGE but ultimately didn’t pay off.

“Let it Go” paid off because we’ve seen Elsa repress every part of her personality to Conceal, Don’t Feel for an hour beforehand. “Into the Unknown,” happens in the first few minutes of the movie, and I don’t know why Elsa cares. It sounded okay, but not memorable, which given what they were clearly going for, feels like a failure. The only bad song was Kristof’s hair-rock video; I couldn’t wait for it to be over.

All of that being said, it wasn’t a bad movie. It was an okay movie. The kids will love it. I was amused and entertained enough by it. The rest is commentary.


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